Make Meetings More Human, please!

We spend a lot of time meeting, without really meeting.

That is, we spend a lot of time assembled together with colleagues in a formal room without really knowing those with whom we are gathered.

We don’t know who they are, what they care about, what they’ve experienced, what they value, what their talents are. We don’t know what they’ve just come from or what they are carrying. We don’t know if they are distracted or worried. But never mind all that. It’s time to be a professional and get to work.

This approach is common in the United States, and in many Western cultures, though I’ve also experienced and suspect this to be different in many non-Western cultures.

But here in the US, we assemble and we get to work.

We feel compelled to get to work.

We are afraid not to get to work.

Often someone, if not most everyone, in the meeting makes sure that we get to work. No matter our background or cultural values, we have all been assimilated into this way of doing business. Don’t distract with anything personal. Don’t waste time. Focus on the purpose of the meeting. Get to action. Show your value and remember, action is valued most. We’ve all learned to adhere to these rules.

With a strong time orientation, with a drive to get things done, we dive in. We stick to the agenda. We don’t waste time on chit chat. We stay focused. We don’t venture questions outside our scope without fear of rebuke. We have to get this work done and get to the next meeting.

If some new idea comes up as part of the discussion, some deviation from what was expected, then we schedule another meeting. After all, we have deadlines to meet, mounting pressure of our competition or our constituent’s expectations, and So. Much. To. Do.

As I describe this you may be thinking, “Well of course this is what we do. Otherwise we’d get nothing done. What else would we do?”

But this is not the only way to run a meeting nor to work, and it is not even the most functional. Not for the short term nor the long term. Not in a way that will sustain a culture where people want to stay and work and where we are not losing people to burnout and suffering the high costs of turnover and replacement.

It is not functional because we human beings don’t want to be treated like gears in a machine.

Instead, according to my research interviews and lots of feedback from my talks, workshops and blogs, most people want three things:

1.       We want our leaders to care about us as human beings.

2.       We want our teams to care for each other.

3.       We want to have support if we face a personal crisis.

When our leaders and teams make sure these things happen, we are able to get to work. We deliver on our commitments. We improve and innovate. We go the extra 10 miles. We become the rare 15% who are engaged rather than the 85% according to Gallup in 2017 who are not.

We can adopt many practices to help us be more human at work, but in the next few posts I am going to focus on humanizing meetings. For better or worse, meetings are the building blocks of our organizational lives. And actually, meetings can be incredible opportunities for creating human-centered cultures and effective workplaces rather than dehumanizing experiences.

So next post, we will start by looking at one simple meeting practice that can help humanize meetings: The Check In.

Meanwhile, how do you make meetings more human?

People Are Kind

People Are Kind

Almost six months ago, I broke my ankle.  It was a serious injury, and I was told that I should not expect to return to normal for at least six months.  As I approach this healing milestone, I have been reflecting on my broken ankle experience.  I was surprised by the kindness I received from people I don’t know all that well, or even at all. I am heartened—really heartened—that so many people went out of their way to help me in my time of need. 

Sheroes: Walker, Chisolm, Colvin, Jones

Sheroes: Walker, Chisolm, Colvin, Jones

As we end Black History month and prepare to celebrate Women’s History Month, with International Women’s Day on March 8, this is a particularly great time to learn about some Black women legends who are sheroes like Madam CJ Walker, Shirley Chisolm, Claudette Colvin and “Baby” Esther Jones.

It Starts as Children

It Starts as Children

I love poetry, and at A Human Workplace, we often include poetry in our gatherings. So I was particularly delighted when NPR announced their “Love is…” poetry contest for school children on Morning Edition. Hearing the response of children to the invitation to write about love was so familiar to me because I hear the same response from grown adults everywhere when I talk with them about decreasing fear and increasing love in the workplace.

I Am a Public Servant

I Am a Public Servant

It’s good sometimes to pause from our work. Take a breath. Really consider our work.

Truthfully.

Sometimes the truth is that we are thrilled. We are delighted by our work and grateful for the privilege of contributing. We can’t wait to get to work each day. We love the challenges we face, the service we offer, the skills we learn, the way we express ourselves to the world in our work.

Do I have to say "love"?

Do I have to say "love"?

Using the word “love” about work is surprising and even shocking to most people.

When I use the “L” word when I speak or teach, it is what my colleague Darrell calls a mic drop moment.

“Love.” Boom! Then silence. Dead silence. Perhaps followed by nervous laughter.

But that’s also where the really important exploration begins.

Can we talk?

Can we talk?

Arguably one of the most difficult issues we face as a nation is race. We struggle to talk about these challenges, and we struggle even more to work through them effectively. So I was surprised to learn abut a team at the Department of Enterprise Services who had a risky and potentially difficult discussion about race and implicit bias that was effective, respectful and team strengthening. I wanted to learn more…

The Power of Intrinsic Motivation

I had the chance to hear Michaela Beals and Josh Calvert present the content of this post at a Results Review to Washington State Governor Jay Inslee along with state agency leaders. I was impressed by the way they connected the State's Employee Engagement Survey results with practical insights into human motivation and an effective human-centered workplace. Thanks to Michaela and Josh for sharing their work here with the community of A Human Workplace. -Renée

Most workplaces are not awesome. A little awe can help.

Most workplaces are not awesome. A little awe can help.

Think of a time when you felt a sense of wonder. Perhaps you marveled at the grandeur of a towering mountain. Or maybe you suddenly sensed the vastness of the universe as the Aurora Borealis spiraled across a winter sky. Were you caught off-guard? Did you lose your sense of time but gain a sense of mystery? Did you feel small and deeply connected to something greater than yourself? Then you probably experienced awe. 

Why do we make the workplace so hard on ourselves?

Why do we make the workplace so hard on ourselves?

People are struggling in most workplaces with disengagement, poor well-being, lack of diversity and inclusion, burnout, conflict, bullying and harassment, unethical behavior, poor performance, challenges to creativity, and lack of problem solving.

So what the heck are we doing to ourselves? And wouldn’t it make sense to do something else?

Learning to Weave in Olympia

Learning to Weave in Olympia

My last post described our need to weave together a stronger social fabric that both honors our common humanity and respects and values diversity. At A Human Workplace: Olympia on June 22, we took a first step by exploring and learning about empathy and diversity. Here’s what we did and what happened. But first, what seems most essential.

Weaving our Human Tapestry

Weaving our Human Tapestry

The fabric of our society feels threadbare. A tattered cloth with gaping holes, it barely drapes us nor does it display its full beauty. We wish it were different but we seem to have lost our ability to weave that tapestry. But in truth, we’ve never really mastered that craft in the first place nor has our tapestry ever truly been complete. But where to begin? We need to learn to weave.

Listening from the Heart

Listening from the Heart

It’s hard to concentrate on writing tonight. You see, I’m excited…and nervous. Tomorrow morning more than eighty public servants are gathering from all over government to explore empathy and diversity at the June Human Workplace Meet Up in Olympia.

I’m thrilled and can’t wait to have this conversation with this caring community. But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to being anxious too. After all the subject of diversity is a challenging one and taps in to some of our most difficult and long-standing social issues. 

Love and Hard Times

Love and Hard Times

This week we lost people who we mostly knew through their work and the impact they had on our lives. Kate Spade’s work clothed us beautifully and gave us self-expression, color, and design in the form of useful objects we enjoyed both practically and aesthetically. Anthony Bourdain’s work inspired us to discover the world and ourselves by meeting people in their neighborhoods, tribes, and homes exploring rituals, traditions, and creativity of food and much more.